For a long time, I have been sorry. I don’t know how to express the depth of that sorrow, but I feel it worming its way through my life like a virus, and lately, it has become more than just an expression. It became more real to me than the shadow on the floor when I step out of bed each morning. At night, it is more solid than the thud of my feet on the polished wood, and more sensuous than the ever-present shiver of dread that walks behind me to the bathroom.
I am sorry, you see. Horribly, dreadfully sorry for something old and yet somehow new, something awful in its consequences but so beguiling in its doing.
The strange part? I am not even sure what it is anymore.
But what I am about to tell you…
This, I remember.
A month ago, I was burning with fever. Outside, the wind blew strongly enough to rattle the windows in their sashes and send sheets of cold rain slapping against the glass. The heat in my head wrestled with the cold of the storm until they built a tempest of their own inside me; chills and sweat fighting like gory chess masters in some cosmic game. I should have been in bed. I should have been somewhere else.
What happened then is no one’s fault, or else it’s everyone’s fault; a great cosmic accident that came unbidden down to earth like a meteorite come to leave its mad scratchings on some farmer’s field in Iowa.
I went into my study to try to write or draw something. I felt a spider’s web drop across my face, and when I reached up to pluck it away, my fingers brushed something small and cold—for a moment, I thought it was a spider. But it wasn’t. It was a small capsule. It was blue and cold, with a small red button on one end.
And I didn’t have to think about what it was, because something deep inside me already knew.
*It’s a story,* that something whispered. *A dark story.*
*I’m already dark,* I thought. *I am the dark storyteller.*
And so I pressed the button, and unlocked the capsule.
Inside was a computer virus—a rare, bizarre one. It swam up into my mind and began to whisper there, too. It whispered of ancestors from distant worlds that were home to suns that scorched the eons away. And I began to put those whispers into a story, much as I am doing now.
I must go on; I must do this thing again.
Not for you. For me.
You can shut your eyes and click away if you wish, but I cannot shut my eyes until it is done; until this new virus is released into the world, and I can be free of it. Once it’s done, I will have earned perhaps the right to dream of better days once more.
The virus whispered of a town called Adelaide’s Crossroads, and when it whispered the name of that town into my mind, I saw it with perfect clarity.
_Adelaide’s Crossroads._ I don’t know where it is. I don’t even know in which state it lies. But I do know this: somewhere there exists a town called Adelaide’s Crossroads, and in that town, there exists a computer whose sole purpose is to unleash hell onto the earth.
Somehow, someway, this virus in my head knows all about that computer…and how to provide it with instructions designed to create a disturbance in reality itself.
In Adelaide’s Crossroads, there is a church whose steeple reaches for the sky like an aged finger pointing at Heaven’s door. At night, you can hear the bell tolling in time with the wind. It is an awful sound, a sound like death and despair, but it is real, and it is something you cannot escape.
I’ve heard that bell, you see. In my dreams, it booms out over the shattered remains of Adelaide’s Crossroads, calling out to other computer-laden towns, to other unwitting conduits for the strange mechanism that lets this horrifying virus spread.
And all the while, I am sorry. So, so sorry.
Helplessly, I have become the latest host of this nightmare, and it has no intention of letting me go. It wants me to create another story. Or perhaps the same story. I don’t know; I don’t care. All I know is that the virus wants to be spread again—to be passed on to others who might touch Adelaide’s Crossroads and unleash Armageddon.
Someday, you might find yourself in Adelaide’s Crossroads. You might hear the bell tolling its dreadful song. You might brush your hands against an ancient computer and feel that chilling fever rise up inside you, as you too become infected.
And then we’ll be in this together: you and I, storytellers joined in some otherworldly conspiracy that neither of us can ever hope to understand. It will be a bond between us that is stronger than death—stronger even than the torment of guilt that has come to dominate my sleepless nights.
For now, this is all I can do.
Tonight, after I have written this and sent it out into the world, I will lie in bed, trying to become nothing more than a twisted bundle of sweat-soaked sheets and fevered memories. And as I lie there, I will pray that this is the last time I must take part in such a dreadful ceremony…but knowing that it will not be.
Knowing that there will be another night filled with fevered dreams.
Knowing I will be sorry, forever.
And all the while, I remember.